We tried Yellow Rail Prairie just before dawn to see if we might find its namesake but drew a blank. We did however treat a selection of the UTC mosquito population to a fine breakfast, so for some at least it was a profitable start to the day. As the day dawned we returned once more to the Shoveler Pond Loop, and were pleased to find both Sora and a King Rail at the first corner, the lateter giving exceptionally unexpected views. From the boardwalk on the western side of the pond the light was phenomenal, and I enjoyed some low shots of Stilt Sandpiper, Blue-winged Teal and various other birds. Soon however the loop began to fill with other cars, and so as not to get stuck behind a massive queue of people simply birding from vehicles on a single-track road we moved back to the favoured eastern edge for some more flight photography as the herons and egrets began to head out of roost and off to feed in the nearby fields and ditches. In this way the first couple of hours of the morning passed most satisfactorily.
|Short-billed Dowitcher (I think!)
|Yellow-crowned Nigh Heron
|Little Blue Heron - a nice blue version
|Great White Egret
|American White Ibis
Back at High Island we spent a little more time seeing if anything new was at Boy Scout, and on the point of leaving bumped into a very nice man called Victor Emanuel. Now obviously I don't like to name drop, but I'd actually had a nice chat with him on my flight over from the UK. Long story, but my immediate neighbour on the plane was returning from participating in a VENT trip in Spain, and had told me that Mr. Emanuel was also on the plane and went to find him. Gratifyingly he had then come along and said hi, and we had proceeded to have a very long chat about bird in Spain as well as his special subject, birding the Upper Texas Coast. He was exceedingly kind and helpful, and my eBird printouts were soon covered with copious notes and hand-drawn maps. I still have his pen in fact. He had suggested meeting up at High Island later in the week to go birding, an amazing proposition, but I declined as I was with Mick and I didn't know what our movements were going to be. Anyhow, we recognised each other and picked up where we had left off, albeit that I forgot to give him his pen back once again. So a lot more gen and then we did a spot of birding in the garden opposite Boy Scout. It was pretty fabulous to have his insightful commentary as we were going through the birds, but I suppose this is a man who has spent a lifetime guiding numpties....
Gradually other people nearby became aware that this was THE Victor Emanuel and starting fawning, at which point we took our leave, but with a list enriched by Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoo in the same tree. Some of the new gen concerned a pair of Whooping Crane that had not moved north with the rest of the flock, and were instead frequenting the fields around Winnie. This is a seriously rare bird in a global context, and I had not seen them at Aransas NR on the coast on a previous visit. In other words this was a must see and the twitch was on, so even though this was somewhat in the wrong direction versus our plans we went back north and sure enough found them feeding in a large field. Too distant for photography even with birds of this impressive size, but it was a real treat to see this highly endangered species. There are fewer than 1000 birds in total, and at one point the population had declined to 20 before conservationists stepped in.
|Grey Catbird were omnipresent
We stopped at Hooks Wood briefly back on High Island, but our actual destination was Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. A happy hour was spent at Rollover Pass, where we upped the list significantly with heaps of new waders and terns, before heading to the Flats. This was amazing - vast numbers of birds on the beach and in the shallows. Waders included Semipalmated Plover, Wilson's Plover, Grey Plover, Willet, Sanderling and Turnstone, whilst on the laridlike front there were Least Tern, Forster's Tern, Black Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern and Caspian Tern, along with Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull and American Herring Gull. Flat on my stomach I enjoyed one of my favourite types of photography, although my clothes enjoyed it less and I nearly had to throw my trousers away. We also saw a thoughtless couple stroll straight out into the roped-off protected area with an enormous unleashed dog, totally ignoring all the signs, so it isn't just in Wanstead that people believe that they can with impunity.
We finished the day back at Boy Scout trying for a few more photos around the drips but this was only moderately successful and involved more of the same fare, that is to say endless Catbird and Swainson's Thrushes, and it was then time to head back to Houston for a new phase of the trip, and to put right another ancient miss.